Part three of this tale of fire in #Crux, the City of Curses. Back twenty years to the future, with Maralda taking her younger sister to apologize to an enigmatic figure called the Delver. This started here, and continued previously here.
We climbed to the top of the Tinkerer's bridge. Railcars bustled past. Aethertrains and airships flew by. I moved to a rail, scanning the Unseen Sound below us.
So much had changed in the last twenty years. So much had happened. So much had changed.
"People really never saw the land across the sound?" Olain asked. "It just appeared? That always seemed..."
"A bit much?" I finished.
"I guess so."
"I remember when this just was the docks. And the highest point in the city was that." I pointed to the clock tower atop the Skullmount. The first Tinkerer had built it.
Before I had been born.
For decades it had been the tallest thing one could see. But the Night of Fire cast a shadow upon the Skullmount. Something taller on the hidden shores of the land people now called the Princeshold. Castle Newhope looked over the Unseen Sound, the Docks of Crux and the Skullmount. It looked like a gothic maw of spires.
"Is Castle Newhope really the ribcage of dead god?"
"I've heard crazier theories. I wouldn't be surprised, in this town, Olain. Gruudl is full of half-dead or asleep starships, each alive in their own way." Brushed hair out of
my eyes. "Or an island full of tiny folk, the size of mice. All protected by a Ursyklon worshipped as a god."
"It isn't my fault the halfling hag has a stick up her butt."
I resisted the urge to remind Olain that for Urskylons the term halfling was offensive. Just as offensive as any slur people used against dhampyrs like ourselves. Palebloods. Leechkin.
Bloodchildren. We didn't like those names. I resisted the urge because I knew it came from ignorance.
Going into a teacherly tone doesn't make the ignorant anymore knowledgeable. They have to learn. Not everyone listened. Sometimes they had to be shown what they didn't know.
"The Delver protects Ranza. She has ever since the Night of Fire. She takes that seriously."
Olain leaned on the rail.
"Did she really make it?" Olain asked me.
We gazed down at the island. An airship from the Tinkerer's bridge ferried folk to and from Ranza. It would still be a few minutes until the next ship came. But Ranza was so clear to see from up here.
"That's..." I hunched my shoulders. "That's a complicated story. I know only a few of the details. The Delver has never filled all of them in for me."
"But you know how it came to be? Why it just appeared after the Night of Fire? It's just like Princeshold then?"
"No, it appeared the morning after. I was at the docks when the fog cleared." The tiny island was how I remembered it from this distance. A few twisted trees. Ancient homes.
Fuzzy details that seemed out of proportion with the rest of it. Ranza was quite small of an island. "And she was there, atop it. She and about forty or so feyborn ferrets."
"Feyborn?" Olain pursed her lips. "They all acted like random animals to me."
"That's an act." I had always assumed it was. "The only other explanation would be they were directly connected to the Delver's brain. At least based on what I saw them do for her."
"That explains how she knew about me."
"You mistreated the Ranzites. She'd know of that. She always knows when one of them is harmed by an outsider."
"Because she's half-angel? Or god or whatever?" Olain sneered.
I shook my head. "Ranzites were human once. Or their ancestors were. Someone cursed them into the size of mice. And the Delver protects them. She found them. She guards them. She seems able to cure them too."
"But she doesn't."
"They..." I paused, remembering the conversations I'd had with Ranzites over the years. The mouse-sized humans had interesting insights. None of them disliked their size.
They'd adapted to it. "They think of it as core to who they are. Ursyklons talk with animals. Androids are made, not born. And Dhampyrs retain the power and curse of their vampyre parents. Even Tieflings seem to find identity in what others would consider a disadvantage."
"And they know what happens if anyone tries to mistreat them because of their size. A powerful druid will stop them," Olain grumbled. "If I'd known that, I would've thought of another way around the problem."
Problem? Maybe there was more going on here.
"Olain? Were you drunk? Or is something worse going on?" I asked.
But she didn't answer my question. Instead, we boarded the tiny airferry to Ranza.